Michelle’s 30-Second Guide to Possessives

by | Nov 3, 2009

Last time we discussed the ever-elusive apostrophe, I kept it short and sweet, touching on the most common rules that we run in to while writing. However, when it comes to making possessives, it’s a little more complicated than adding “apostrophe + s.”

Never fear, though. Here at Aqua Vita, we’re all about clear communication and making the rules easy to remember.

So, here’s how you handle possessive nouns:

  1. Singular possessives are pretty easy. Just add an apostrophe and “s.” For example: Michelle’s glass, Jack’s computer, the dog’s tail, the waitress’s table.
  2. For plural possessives that end in “s,” you just add an apostrophe at the end. For example: the churches’ vans, the students’ bags, the teachers’ break room.
  3. For plural possessives that do not end in “s,” you add an apostrophe and “s.” For example: women’s shoes, men’s clothing, the children’s playground.

Easy enough so far, right? Now it gets a little trickier:

  1. If two or more nouns share the possession of something, then you only need to make one of the nouns possessive. For example, say Jack and Jill share a pail of water. You would write “Jack and Jill’s pail.” You always make the last noun the possessive one.
  2. By contrast, if Jack and Jill each owned a pail, then you would make both nouns possessive, like so: “Jack’s and Jill’s pails.”

Well, maybe not that much trickier.

Anyway, what about all those names that end in “s”? Like James or Williams or Achilles or Xerxes? (I’m quite impressed if you’re writing about Achilles or Xerxes, by the way.)

Those are what the trusty AP Stylebook calls “Singular Proper Nouns that End in S.” (Sounds fancy, doesn’t it?) For these words, you just add an apostrophe on the end. For example, Charles Dickens’ books, Xerxes’ army, Achilles’ tendon.

So, here’s the summary:

  1. Singular possessive nouns: Add apostrophe + s.
  2. Plural nouns ending in “s”: Add an apostrophe.
  3. Plural nouns that don’t end in “s”: Add apostrophe + s.
  4. When there’s joint ownership between two or more nouns, the last one in the list gets the apostrophe + s.
  5. When there’s a list of two or more nouns that own something individually, then you make each of them possessive.
  6. For “Singular Proper Nouns that End in S,” you just tack an apostrophe on the end.

Got any other grammar questions? Just click here to shoot us an email.